Some experience no long-lasting effects after a traumatic life event, meanwhile others live with the memories of that event for the rest of their lives. It’s very much an individual disorder, though there are some key similarities between people.
The Science Behind PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects three key areas of the brain: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.
The second part of the brain that PTSD depends on is the hippocampus. This is the part of your brain where your memories are stored. Given that PTSD is something that occurs after a traumatic event, this is where the memories of that event are stored, and when you encounter a stressful situation, this is where those memories will come from when you’re reminded of the event itself.
Lastly, the prefrontal cortex is affected, as it is the area of your brain that is responsible for rational thought and decision making. When you are under a high level of stress, the prefrontal cortex can become overwhelmed and your ability to think clearly and make good decisions in those moments may be severely impaired.
PTSD is a combination of the triggering of stress hormones in the amygdala, bringing about the remembering of a traumatic event by the hippocampus, which inhibits the ability of the prefrontal cortex to function properly.
The effects of PTSD on individuals vary widely, some can become violent, some can become manic or experience a state of paranoia, others can have a panic attack. Depending on the context of the situation that triggered the episode, and the event itself, causes can vary widely as well.
Different Types Of PTSD Treatment
There are many different types of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. These can include meditation and relaxation, pharmacological treatments such as prescription drugs for anti-anxiety medications, these can also include regular therapy sessions to help sufferers process their trauma in a constructive way. These therapies can be either: Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), Stress Inoculation Therapy, or Cognitive Processing Therapy.
What Is EMDR & How Does It Work?
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, or EMDR is one of the foremost psychotherapy treatments for PTSD sufferers. A psychotherapist will often encourage the patient to relive their traumatic event(s) while controlling their eye movement. This allows the patient to process their trauma while keeping them sufficiently visually distracted, so as not to allow the brain to focus too much on the traumatic event, and cause them to react negatively, as the brain shuts down to protect itself from the stress of the traumatic event itself. After a short period of focusing and eye movements, the patient will be asked to let their mind go blank and to concentrate on what they’re feeling at that moment. After those thoughts and feelings are vocalized, the patient will then be asked to refocus on that traumatic memory.
The goal with EMDR is to focus just enough on the traumatic event for long enough to allow the brain to process it slowly, and therefore, over time, to become less sensitive to the event, allowing for the traumatic memories to affect you less and less as time and exposure go on.
If you have had a traumatic event in your life that you have struggled to cope with, it is always recommended that you seek professional advice and support. PTSD can have disastrous, tragic consequences for one’s life and those around a sufferer if the events themselves are not processed properly and one can begin to heal.